Apr 24, 2019 Last Updated 10:14 AM, Apr 24, 2019

Pacific mourns NZ victims

Mourners pray for the victims of the Christchurch shooting. Mourners pray for the victims of the Christchurch shooting. Fiji Government
Published in March
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FIJI continues to mourn the death of three nationals who were shot while at prayer in two New Zealand mosques this month.

The men, 58-year-old Ashraf Razak Ali, 59-year-old Imam Haji Musa Patel, and 61-year-old Ashraf Ali, were amongst 50 worshippers killed at the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre. The alleged gunman, a 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, will reappear in court on April 5.

At the time of writing, New Zealand High Commissioner Jonathan Curr said his government was doing everything it could to facilitate the travel of the Fiji relatives and mourners of the three to Christchurch for funeral services.

Disturbingly, the accused gunman managed to livestream the first 17 minutes of the attack on Facebook Live. The video was removed, but versions of it continue to proliferate online, as it is reposted and reshared on various social media platforms. Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum told mourners at an interfaith service in Suva that the video was “revolting”.

Youtube and Facebook have defended themselves against accusations they didn’t move quickly enough to block the video’s spread. Facebook claims the live stream of the attack was viewed less than 200 times and non-live by 4,000 people before it was removed. 

Facebook says 24 hours after the attack, it had removed 1.5 uploaded copies of the attack, blocking more than 1.2 million of them at upload. Youtube says it removed human reviewers from monitoring so that automated systems could take down more videos instantly, and that it shared information with the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, so other companies could take the ‘original’ and edited versions of the videos down as well.

“The volume of related videos uploaded to YouTube in the 24 hours after the attack was unprecedented both in scale and speed – at times as fast as a new upload every second.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appealed to social media platforms to do more to combat terrorism. “They are the publisher, not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”

Several New Zealand companies, including Westpac NZ and Lotto NZ, have suspended advertising on Facebook in response to the tragedy and the company’s handling of the aftermath. Tourism Fiji has postponed the implementation of its new ‘Bulanaires’ campaign in New Zealand in response to the attack. It has not ruled out using Facebook in delivering the campaign, saying “Tourism Fiji uses Facebook as a marketing channel with a large following on our FB pages and posts.”

While the attack shocked many Pacific Islanders, not only because of its proximity but also because of the perception of New Zealand as a peaceful and welcoming country, others were not so surprised. Pro Vice-Chancellor at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, Paul Spoonley, says there is plenty of evidence of local Islamophobic views, especially online. Of a project he undertook last year to look at hate speech, Spoonley said: “It would be wrong to characterise these views and comments as widespread, but New Zealand was certainly not exempt from Islamophobia.” “There is also a naivety amongst New Zealanders, including the media, about the need to be tolerant towards the intolerant. There is not necessarily a direct causation between the presence of Islamophobia and what has happened in Christchurch. But this attack must end our collective innocence,” he said.

The shootings have also caused some soul-searching in Fiji, which has a history of ethnic and religious tension. Comments condoning the attacks and attributed to Fiji users were reportedly posted to the site. Fiji police say they are now investigating the alleged posts.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said soon after the incident: “I call on all Fijians across all backgrounds and faiths to join me in making this pledge: Whenever you encounter someone who says something racist and hateful, whether it is online or in person, say something. Do something. Have the courage to call them out, and counter their hatred with reason. Be the voice of love. Be the voice of change.”

Meanwhile Fiji’s Hindu community led by the Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha said it was cancelling Holi celebrations as a mark of respect for the Christchurch victims. Holi is usually a colourful celebration in Fiji as Hindus celebrate the victory of good over evil. In Auckland, the Pasifika festival was cancelled for safety and security reasons, as was the final day of the Auckland secondary schools dance festival, Polyfest.

Pacific leaders were quick to offer sympathy and support after the terrorist attack. PNG’s Prime Minister Peter said the “vicious attack” was “disgusting”, Nauru’s President and Pacific Islands Forum Chair Baron Waqa said “We are a Forum family and what affects one, affects all. The people of New Zealand are in our thoughts and prayers.” Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said: “We think also of our Cook Islands community in Christchurch and in New Zealand, with so many of our people who have made their homes there. New Zealand is home for all of us, and this despicable act will not change that feeling of closeness in us.”

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